The Girl with the Magical Smile

June, 2014

A young girl with glasses and a walker smiles on the playground

If you visit the Blind Children’s Center on a typical school day and find yourself walking around the playground during recess, you just might catch a glimpse of her. Some days you’ll find her sitting with her favorite teacher in the big swinging chair, seemingly just taking it all in. Other days you’ll spot her in her walker, making strides, bigger and more easily than she did the week before. She’s Ysabella Arboleda, the little girl with the magical smile.

It seems appropriate, then, that Ysabella turned six years old this past Thanksgiving, because her parents Linda and Ronaldo are thankful for every cherished moment with their daughter. Born with life-threatening respiratory distress, Ysabella spent the first week of her life in the NICU, before doctors realized months later she also suffered from persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous (PHPV), which rendered her completely blind in her left eye and severely far-sighted in her right eye.

“Those first few months were very difficult for all of us,” her mother Linda admitted. “Ysabella cried almost constantly and was very sensitive to loud noises and other changes in her environment. We knew we needed professional help.” Thanks to a referral from a local agency, the Arboledas found out about the Blind Children’s Center, enrolling Ysabella in the Infant Program before her first birthday.

The specialists and instructors there immediately began attending to her individual needs through the multidisciplinary team approach the Center is known for. One of the biggest challenges they faced was working on Ysabella’s movement and mobility, since she also has neurological issues which impair her coordination, motor skills, and speech. “Ysabella presents with a complicated medical profile for which we have excellent strategies and interventions that have been very effective in promoting her growth and progress,” said Dr. Fernanda Armenta-Schmitt, the Center’s Director of Education and Family Services.

While Ysabella’s early instructors remember weeks on end without a single smile from Ysabella, and countless tears instead, she has made incredible strides in five short years. “I think a lot of her frustration stems from not being able to communicate her feelings,” her mother said, “but all of the exposure to the other kids at the Center has helped so much. She can be who she wants to be. She can laugh, she can walk around the playground, she can learn at her own pace.”

In addition to all of the specialists and instructors who are cheering every step she takes, Ysabella also has the support of her little brother Jian who is a typically developing 4-year-old pre-schooler enrolled at the Center as a reverse-mainstream student. And everything he has learned, even as a young child, is shaping him, too. His parents have noticed he has become more helpful to his sister and among his list of dream jobs, he now lists physical therapist as one of his top choices. “When we’re home with Ysabella, I watch him emulate some of the therapies he sees the professionals at the Center doing,” Linda said with a smile, strikingly reminiscent of her daughter’s. “This is our second family. I’m so glad we’re a part of the Blind Children’s Center. We wouldn’t know what to do without them.”